Raghbir & the late Doris Dhillon
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"Chief, why are the girls not allowed to join high school?" I asked.
Attar Singh, the village chief, a tall muscular man, snaked his fingers through his white flowing beard and replied, "Our scared traditions forbid that, and I'm supposed to uphold them."
"Sir, the world has made great progress in educating women, and we should also move forward."
"Young man, God has allotted women a sacred job, and they shouldn't discard that by running after books."
"What job, sir?"
"Procreation. If they stop that, the world would come to an end."
"Sir, education won't prevent them from bringing children into the world."
"Birdbrain, it does. A girl must marry before she's fifteen and must have her first child before she's sixteen. If she joins a college, the whole process is delayed by more than ten years. She loses half of her fertility period, and we can't afford it," he said. "God gave them beauty and charm, but reserved the brain and physical strength for men."
"Sir, some girls, like Jeeto, have much sharper brains. She can multiply and divide long figures in her brain and give correct answers, while we fail to calculate those on our slates."
"She's a freak. Mathematics won't help her in making the babies."
"Sir, I beg you to give her a chance to attend high school in Amritsar," I implored.
"Sorry, no one can alter the laws fixed by our traditions."
He snarled, "Shut up and leave."
I touched his feet with my folded hands and left the place.
I returned home, devastated and disappointed. My village, Thati, is located at the feet of the majestic Himalayan Hills. In 1930, I was thirteen years old and was studying in the eighth grade. The chief controlled our fate and no villager had the courage to disobey him. I went to plead the case of Jeeto, a girl from my village. Boys and girls were not permitted to mix. They had separate schools, and in the Gurdwara (Sikh temple) they sat far apart from each other. The only place were they could converse was the free kitchen at the temple. As a volunteer, when I came to pick up clean steel plates, I saw Jeeto. She was sitting crosslegged and rubbing ashes over dirty dishes. With her milky skin, sharp nose, firm chin, and almond shaped eyes, she looked like a goddess. When she stood up to give me the clean dishes, I found she was tall, slim, and athletic. I fell in love at first sight. Our love flourished and blossomed. She wanted to go to college and become a teacher, and I undertook the task of convincing the chief.
I wanted to marry Jeeto, but in this land of arranged marriages, it was an impossible dream.
Next day, I met Jeeto at the temple kitchen and said, "Jeeto, you won't be able to go to high school."
"Did you meet the chief?"
"Yes, he wants you to marry and raise children and thus perform the job allotted by the gods," I said.
"Do you believe in this?"
I shook my head.
She sighed. "Bir, that kills my dreams. I'm afraid my father is going to sell me to clear the loans which he took to pay the dowries of my four elder sisters."
"He can't sell you like a cow," I smirked.
"He can. It has happened to many girls in our village. Poor girls were forced to marry old widowers who paid the proper price."
I banged my fist on the ground. "I'll never permit this. Let's elope and get married."
"Be rational. You don't have money and have never travelled more than ten miles from our village."
"That's true. We are in a trap. Look, I'll reveal my secret to my grandfather and seek his help."
"Good, I'll pray for you."
With a heavy heart, I left the temple kitchen, and to avoid suspicion she worked for twenty more minutes.
I rushed to our farm cottage near the tube well. My grandfather, who retired as Subedarmajor (the highest rank which an Indian could attain in the British army in those days), was living there. When Grandma died, he left the village house and occupied the farm cottage. He was built like a giant and was a Victoria Cross holder. When I came near the cottage, I saw him spinning the rope and reciting his evening prayers. The golden rays of the setting sun were enhancing the glow on his face.
I touched his feet. He stacked the spinner along the wall, and said, "What brings my favorite grandson here?"
"Grandpa, I'm in deep trouble."
"What's your problem?"
I rubbed my chin and stuttered, "I'm in love."
He patted my back. "Get over this crazy stuff. No love marriage is permitted in our system. Your father will arrange a girl for you, and you will have to love her."
I grabbed his feet. "I can't survive. Please help."
"Alright, who is the girl?"
"Jeeto, daughter of Baldev."
"Well, I've seen her at the Gurdwara. She appears to be a nice girl. As for her father, Baldev, I admire the man. He was the champion wrestler and is a good farmer. His karma, however, has destroyed his life."
"He married the prettiest girl in our district. All admired the couple. Then the karma punished them for the sins of their previous births: He had five daughters. A wise man would have stopped after three daughters, but he tried twice again, hoping to get a son. He took loans to pay for the dowries of his four daughters. Now he's buried under heavy debt. He and his wife look emaciated and crushed."
"Jeeto is his youngest daughter, and he intends to sell her to some old man."
"That's a cruel practice, and there are no laws to stop it," he said.
"Well, I want to avert this tragedy and marry Jeeto," I dabbed my tears and said. "I beg you to help me."
"Calm down young man, let's try the methods approved by our traditions."
"What should I do?"
"I'll give you twenty rupees, and you try to bribe the matchmaker. If Baldev agrees, I'll force your father to forgo the dowry."
"Thanks, Grandpa," I said and hugged him.
Next day, after school, I went to the village matchmaker. I knocked at his door, and he shouted from inside, "Step in, the door is open."
I greeted him with folded hands.
"Young man, are you looking for a bride?" he said with a gleam in his dancing eyes.
"How old are you?" he asked.
"Well, that's is the right time to get yolked," he said with a big grin. "You, however, must know, that you can't arrange your wife. This job is allotted to your parents. Remember, you can't even see your bride before the marriage ceremonies."
I placed twenty rupees near his feet. He adjusted the steel framed glasses which had slipped to the tip of his nose, pocketed the money, and said, "I'll try, but we must keep it secret. Now tell me about your girl."
I blushed and murmured, "Jeeto, daughter of Baldev."
"Baldev is a powerful man, but he's in heavy debt which he incurred for paying the dowries for his four daughters."
"Grandpa has promised that we won't ask a penny in dowry and the marriage will be performed at the Gurdwara. And the whole thing won't cost Baldev anything."
"Can I use your grandfather's name?"
"That makes things much easier for me," he said. "Alright, I'll meet Baldev tomorrow."
I thanked the matchmaker and rushed home whistling a happy tune.
Next day, during the class, I couldn't concentrate on the books and was made to stand up on the bench. In my dreams, however, I kept flying in the sky, holding Jeeto in my arms. In the evening I slipped to the matchmaker's home. From the sad expression on his face, I suspected trouble.
"Bad news. Baldev has decided to sell his daughter for fifty thousand rupees to a man who's working in Malaysia. With this money Baldev will pay his debts and lead a carefree life."
"What about poor Jeeto?"
"She has to suffer as dictated by her karma; we can do nothing."
"Well, do you know anything more about the man who is buying Jeeto?"
"Yes, he's from Kalha Village. He has a transportation business in Malaysia."
"How old is he?"
"More than seventy-seven."
"A seventy-seven-year-old man should be ashamed to marry a thirteen year old girl."
"He's paying cash and the marriage will be performed in Baldev's house and no one will be invited."
My heart stopped beating and a painful knot grabbed my stomach.
"Can the village priest stop this tragedy?"
"He has been purchased and is performing the marriage eremony," he said.
I bowed my head and left the place.
In the afternoon, I met Jeeto at the temple kitchen and told her what I d learned from the matchmaker.
She was devastated and tears trickled down her rosy cheeks.
"Let's elope," I suggested.
"Where can we go?"
"My father will drag me from there, and you'll be sent to jail. My fate is sealed, and I'm prepared to resign to it. My heart belongs to you and nobody can purchase it."
We rubbed the dishes with misty eyes and broken hearts.
The matchmaker gave me the time and date of Jeeto's marriage—eight in the morning of May 4, 1931.
On May 4, I wore torn clothes, pasted false white whiskers on my face, dressed as a beggar, and sat crosslegged in front of Baldev's house. At 7:30, I saw a man walking toward the house. He was five feet tall with a dark, wrinkled face. His trimmed beard was dyed black, but the roots still showed their white color. He limped and walked with the help of a stick. I could easily guess that he was the bridegroom. I cussed the cruel karma.
After one hour a buggy appeared in front of the house. Baldev lifted bundled up Jeeto and stacked her in it. The midget groom sat next to her. As the buggy crawled out, I chanted, "God show some mercy."
I had been hearing Jeeto's sobs and hiccups, and on hearing my
chant, she let out a loud scream which tore my heart.
My dreams had been shattered, and I swore to never marry anyone and wait for the death of Jeeto's husband. Evidently, the old man wouldn't last more than ten years, and I'd be twenty-three then.
I was a changed person and worked hard on my books. My father approached me many times, but I refused to get hooked. In two years, I finished high school. Now I decided not to attend college and trace Jeeto. I went to discuss my plans with my grandfather.
"Grandpa, I want to become a soldier like you."
Grandpa knew what was in my heart and didn't question me about college. "Good, tomorrow I'll take you to the recruiting center, and you can enter my regiment."
"I want to see your friend Subedar Ram Singh."
"He's signing up soldiers who will assist the British in Malaysia."
A twinkle appeared in Grandpa's placid brown eyes. "Are you still dreaming about Jeeto?"
"Yes, I am."
"She has been married for more than two years and must be having some children."
"I've seen her husband who is near eighty and sick. I'm sure he can't sire any child. Now he might be on his deathbed."
"Don't do anything foolish."
"I promise. I won't hurt him."
Grandpa took me to his friend, and I joined the soldiers who were hired to protect the British regiment. I was more than six feet tall, and with my broad shoulders and muscular body, I looked impressive in the khaki uniform and red turban.
After two months, I reached Kuala Lumpur. When I got settled, I located Jeeto's husband. I was surprised to discover that his transportation business was only a cart pulled by a buffalo. He was confined to bed, and his brother's grandson was plying his trade. He had paid his fifty years savings to purchase a young bride and was facing financial problems. I rode my cycle and circled the ragged shanty and saw Jeeto from a distance. She looked haggard and dejected.
Next Sunday I met her at the Gurdwara and asked, "How are you
She dabbed her eyes and moaned.
"How many children do you have?"
"I'm still a virgin. My husband used several aphrodisiac medicines and voodoo stuff, but failed to perform his conjugal duty. He makes me sleep naked with him, fondles my breasts, weeps, and falls asleep cursing his lingam. I close my eyes and dream about you."
"How is his health?"
"He's dying from cancer, and the doctors have given him three
months to live."
"Good, soon you will be free from this Hell. You're less than eighteen and the future is waiting for you."
"What future? I'll be a young widow. An Indian widow has no future. I'll go to our village, help in the Gurdwara, and wait for my death."
"What about marriage?"
"An Indian widow can't marry and no one will dare to marry her, even if she's a virgin."
"Jeeto, I will."
"What about your wife and kids?"
"I never married and came here to meet you. Mind it, we're still young to chase our dreams."
"Marry and become teachers."
She nodded with her bewitching dimple smile. I saw the gates of Paradise opening for me.
After three months Jeeto's husband was cremated and his ashes thrown in the ocean. We decided to wait for some time.
Six months later, I approached the Sikh priest.
"I want to marry a widow," I said.
"You can't; our traditions don't permit it," he asserted.
"What about a chadder marriage, in which the priest conceals the couple under a sheet to hide them from the gods and the public and performs the ceremony."
"Yes, it can be done, but it will cost you one thousand rupees."
"I'm willing to pay," I said and promptly paid him.
The religious ceremony was performed at the Gurdwara, and I took Jeeto to my home. She looked magnificent in her wedding dress. At night I discovered that she was a virgin.
I wrote to my grandfather and gave him the good news. He replied: "Attar died last year and the new chief supports the education for women. Kick your job, and return home with Jeeto. You both must complete your education, and I'll support you. I want to see college graduates in my family."
I resigned from the army, and Jeeto and I returned to India. When we reached our village, we were welcomed with open arms by my parents and Baldev and his wife. Grandpa had twisted their arms. I joined Khalsa College at Amritsar. Jeeto finished two grades in one year and entered the girl's college. She stood first in the university in her M.A., and I completed my MSCE. Grandpa held a big party to announce the news of two college graduates in his family.
We took teaching jobs. Madly in love and with our dreams fulfilled, we were in Heavenly bliss and thanked our karmas.
Copyright © 2007 by Raghbir & Doris Dhillon.
Raghbir Dhillon was born in India and immigrated to the USA in 1960 at the age of 36. He holds a B.A., a BSCE(Hons), an MSCE (Purdue), and a PE . He was the student editor of the college magazine Shalimar. He retired as a chief engineer.
His wife, Doris Dhillon, passed away on March 12, 2007. She grew up in Cleveland and won awards of her writing while at Drew University where she earned a BA and an M.A.
As a team, both have been widely published in such venues as Rosebud, CIA (Citizens in America), Enigma, The Storyteller, Gathering of the Tribes, Midnight Times, Pink Chameleon, King's English, Circle Magazine, The Oracular Tree, among many others.
They have written 5 novels and have had 47 short stories published in 17 magazines.
Featured on ArLiJo.com Mr. Palomar's Wife and Angels & Insects
"It is only after you have come to know the surface of things, Mr. Palomar thinks, that you can venture to seek what is underneath. But the surface of things is inexhaustible. "
—— Italo Calvino, Mr. Palomar
Mr. Palomar's Wife
Emma M. peruses the mirror quickly these days, never seeking particularly, never finding, an interlude charitable enough for primping; she's noticed with astonishment that she becomes ontologically dislodged by her own reflection. It can occur when she bumps against an angle of rotating door or strides aslant past a night-black window. It startles. Barely resembles her except as oddly crazed, a persistent, unexplainable image. So it is that she almost never has her photo taken unless appearing parenthetically curved, unnatural, at the outermost edge of a group of visitors, a symposium, a celebratory late-late-evening at Venire-Vivènte dining with a group of authors, editors, publishers, agents. She has grown from a lithe, nervously active girl to a woman of substance which has wrapped her, albeit, in the white flesh of maturity: neither dimpled nor attractive in any nubile sense. But throughout time she has carried the same held-in-the-bud neutrality of her youth with temperate political views that've survived undaunted, but for the mirror’s sly chronology. Her pronouncements are like the mournful stop-start vibrations coming from the viola da gamba or else the final lines of a wry sonnet. Like the inimitable Mr. Palomer's description of Capito de Nieve—that giant albino ape he names "Snowflake"—she has a slow gaze, Palomar explains with his accustomed sympathy, "charged with desolation and patience and boredom, a gaze that expresses all the resignation" that so many of us, perceptually endowed, are bowed under. And noted in simultaneity in that inexorable rhythm of double truths, still manage to celebrate. It entails a special kind of simplicity of being the way one is, "sole exemplar in the world of a form not chosen, not loved"—simplicity mocked by all the "effort of bearing" which is, of course, Emma M.'s own singularity. And upon occasion it's true she feels a twinge, a simple suffering fact of "occupying space and time," dumb as a doorstop. Considering certain basics shared between creatures of largesse, meaning outward-looking, the description is apt. "So cumbersome and evident," Palomar said of Snowflake.
His epiphanic words were written one sun-striped day at the zoo, and unknown to him she was all these. Give or take. But it's possible that 'cumbersome' and 'evident' could be stretched to include 'invisibility' given the dichotomous infractions inherent within all things obvious, quite possibly in regard to Palomar himself and his well-known obsessions tilled by regularity into ultralinear duties to community, to quiet domesticity, to consequence. It seemed to her at any rate that she was marked by both the obvious and invisible.
And yet Emma M. loved Mr. Palomar without reserve, down to the clustered pads of her toes. It was not a short-lived volcanically pubescent infatuation of course. She had read his only published but well-received book, a kind of notebook or diary, Observances and Surmise, as nearly everyone in Rome had, with relish and long-lasting adoration. But Emma's stroke of good fortune (or not) was she lived in the same building as Mr. Palomar. Privy to his comings and goings; there were moments when she was as dedicated as a voyeur, including a deeply darkening intensity in her forehead, damp hands, an accelerated heart beat. Late at night she pressed into the intricate lace folds of her curtains as if lurking behind a bush, window-glazing the only implacably transparent cull between them. Then she would see him with his hat brim down obscuring his all-seeing eyes, collar up shielding his tender neck, the white square-shaped short-legged Scottie with a conspiratorial English name, Will-Fully, that she knew first-hand from the book, tugging his master by a thin red leather lead. Sometimes Palomar twirled in a circle, caught by Will-Fully's loosened strap. Even on a chilly rainy night he would go, dutifully and too famously now, as The Mr. Palomar, living inside his one unnecessarily replete quarto.
Emma M. suffers from a simple fact: Mr. Palomar in such close proximity. Probably much more than she would if she'd read him and loved him but was in no way near or so very much aware of his humanly and manly presence. It could not be said with any fairness, even in close observance, that Emma was a "lonely woman"; she'd lived over three decades on her own with little frustration, in a flowing habit of well-being.
When she was very young she'd lived with a man in Milan, married him in Genoa, shared a daily existence with him near the center of Rome for seven solid years. Solid in the sense that those years swelled beautifully, rewarded along with her maturation, her mounting success with work; she didn't notice his faltering gait at those natural stepping-stone increments. But to her it seemed the marriage was solid, full, especially in the sense of their being inordinately physically compatible, in quite healthy sexual accord deepened by an almost ferocious bedroom abandon; part in lieu of their relative youth; in part because they were both boundless in energies. Tennis, squash, bocce, city walks, cross-country hikes, lavish entertaining. All these positive traits were also negative, spilling out from the confines generally set by marriage. Emma could have lived accordingly with their polite bordering-on-public affairs, the oddly replenishing occasions—being generous, fair-minded, and intuiting that, more than likely, the fearless infractions wouldn't outlast their lawful sanctions. At least not for her, and a schedule that began to foreclose on extracurricular delights. But she neglected one rudimentary fact—that Mr. Palomar found in the face of Snowflake—that she was not loved. Another woman indeed was loved—fixedly, adamantly, incoherently—who had far-dreamier lines and tints than Emma, embodied far-slower alpha rhythms in her needs and habits, whose countenance was a moonface emblem of surfeit, a kind of opal pendant that could hang forever against a bosom's midpoint. A quiet day-in-day-out observance of intransience.
Emma hadn't a chance, despite flirtation with her own husband; effusively dressing the part, leaning in to clink her glass against his in a toast of giving, offering clever anecdotes, clever confutations of reason against the ill-defined, and elaborate jests. His profile was of the most definitive sort. Along the nostrils and mouth corners were lines of immaculate distaste. Upon occasion he sniffed with disdain. There was nothing to do at that point but give him willingly to his lover's moist otherness, easing her own self out of their in-growing verdancy walled by warm density of private vines and a private haze.
So her life grew into greater fullness, especially in details, and remains so.
At the Taberna Bill she sits as often as twice a week with a full tumbler of red preceding the meal—veal piccata, or masa cushions puffed with a filling of goat's cheese, or a crisp-edged fritatta—silver is pushed aside for a manuscript, spread out on the white cloth. Between two fingers a sharpened pencil hovers, ready to deliver its snail-script code, to pounce onto distinctly spotless margins; Emma is content. She is content enough not to consider whether she is or is not. Or what value contentment might have on a ten-scale of plusses, if any. Against the ambience, the succinct rubino rosso, the succinct cucina fragrances, the evenly laid sentences and indentations, the demonstrative tap-tap of commas and semicolons. Mirror of architectures: flourishing in pithy lines somewhere between silence and speech, flourishing on their own as well as nourishing kindred minds. It was not Emma's publishing house that had printed Mr. Palomar's Observances, regrettably, but another. She knew the Torino editore, once intimately. Sweet, that, but fleeting. She counted him now as one of her closest friends, a useful friend: a warm and reliable sort who came with a dominant-nosed largely assertive, widely extended and connected, old Roman family.
Occasionally there are some excursions away from Rome that Emma likes—for colleagues and other traveling groups she's grown fond of, the people, the destinations—especially those plans for weekends that would expand or redefine the self by the shapes and textures of Siena, Umbria, or Tuscany.
She goes to the north and the forested countryside outside Florence, walking through rocky scrub and vines and orchards and fields where shepherds still tend flocks and their wives still go through the yielding process, making ricotta for precious one-meal packaging and in bulk. Some excursions are further north for skiing, though Emma M. no longer takes her exercise on the slopes, preferring instead—as with many others, not necessarily of her group—the fireside, a carafe, a good novel, a long view of snow laid peaks and, as a rule, quite excellent conversation with the collateral scatters of opinion, or quite handy information. Emma M. of course is a good listener. Someone begins, "Have you heard the latest fiasco? The Milan Court of Appeals has thrown out a case against three North African terrorists." A large man sunk deep in an armchair near the fire, face flaming, said "Lack of a substantial case—meaning no rational testimony, not a hint of solid proof, not one reliable witness." He raised his martini glass in salute. "A poetic but grave ineffectuality of Italian courts," answered a tall woman seated nearby, wrapped in dingy furs and colorful scarves. Seated against the woman's wraps came another voice: "Inept prosecution, a failure to align the stage-props." And a charming lisp emanated from a young man in jeans and a ponytail, "or develop a cohesive script." Another rejoined that "Draconian measures have no effect in our system anymore. Not in this day and age. Here we see the slippery slope, profits and loss of change." Incensed. And a bespectacled woman, sitting upright with indignation and a scholarly britishized air: "Draconian measures, I say. Distorting and bloating Count Draco's wry 'code of laws' is travesty engorged. Why don't we look at the supercilious CIA's quite ominous kidnappings. They call it 'rendering.' Something like painting a picture, don't you know, making a lifelike copy that's born down into the earth." Finally, from a ski-trousered blond with a quiet whisper: "Is it possible that this CIA is an entirely independent force like the Hezbollah?"
And on it went.
A light snow was falling. Emma felt it wouldn't last.
Emma M. has a good memory. A substantive interest in most everything that begins with the hay-fork tines of debate. Above all, she enjoys comparing reactions, enjoys intricacies of description; the plays of estimation titillate as a too tasty treat. The many inordinate ways a single situation unfolds is, quite naturally, the literary person's concordat, a raptured indulgence as well, even in the gruesome and mortifying, in watching the rotary colors of a Rashomon carousel. Palomar had written: Not to interpret is impossible, as refraining from thinking is impossible. She heard this again, felt the warm breath of his confidence near her ear. Warming her thoroughly, this simple airy connection. Her eyes roamed over the composed pointillist space, beyond the window again, plowing dry and airborne over furrows, façades, clefts and distant covers of white.
La Stampa is always partially right but of course too opaquely serialized. An almost unwitting organ of subterfuge like any other daily, it depends on evòlvere to furnish anything close to a truth. And usually that's too incremental and drawn-out time-wise to be recognized for what it is.
The new Pope has been cutting the cloth of the Italian landscape for many years, now he's in a position to mold a drop-cloth to fall with perfection over verdigris mountains, cities, coastal plains, along the entire periphery—all the damp edges of the boot—to rest on the inundating hem of salt sand. Emma M. visited the Franciscan basilica a few days ago to see the frescoes for herself. To perceive for herself the praying crowds, the swaying praying linguistics, an accented stew of upraised articulation.
She came away so satisfied by Giotto's part in this day's festivities, the art, seen by today's present even as it writes corrective misprisions over the protuberance of historic continuity. As the funnel tips onto this very spot. She saw the town, Assisi itself, tremble. In anticipation, or in a state most fitting to its centuries-old decrepitude, its fall to a rickety demeanor. A steady light rain curtained the edges of Assisi's slopes. Simultaneously, over the shrine, corrugated light strummed down from the sun through electric air. Emma felt translucent. She left her group and wandered slowly through the side garden of a chapel, thinking of Vincenzo Coli's words, tolerant, yet critical, and still bearing a sacrosanct need to thrive. Defensive all around. No, we are not "making Saint Francis into a village idiot," he said, stentorian, "who speaks with wolves and birds." Wolverines and pigeons. Puppies, canaries. Hampsters, ladybugs, demons and elves. Did she see Palomar in the crowd? Head moving slowly left-right, eyes downcast? She imagines it so. A rhyming respond to her every thought; wafer on the tongue. She wondered if she'd ever been right for marriage, if she'd fit the role better at this stage of functions, customs, commitments. Without the customary background of fusion. Saffron-robed flocks, with bird-like heads—small, round, shaved—chanted by the vestibule; Emma shifted through to the cobble walk that led out to remains of a forum circled by fragrant hemlocks and an alphabetic rune of damaged stones. Slowly, she followed the wide circle that led back inside through a tunnel and into a series of chapels that supported the west wall of the basilica.
"Among all the infinite possible combinations"—she thought she heard him mutter, somewhat disgruntled, all the way from her shadowed place by a column on the opposite side of the nave—"the most incredible become fixed."
And these are the monstrosities—of the established order, she knew he meant—without which, especially here on overused but even so the most fertile on earth, the Italian soil, we cannot live without. Or even, cannot thrive without the excess, the chronic-ironic replies to this 'order' that presses us to feed change right down into our roots. Ah, but this is not so mysterious. Saint Francis would tell us that our traditions are already set in fiery dialogue. He never wore red loafers or a shortened gown but was nonetheless most influential, most instrumental. This is our talent, Emma imagined he said, for talk, often running away with us.
She went down below the town, crossing a huge asphalt meadow made for parking cars, utilizing a hip movement gotten only from steep descents. The drapery of rain had lifted and the sun, slanting, was far less startling. A golden slat of light, world famous by now, made photographs immediately antique, into golden endurance. She never carried a camera. Like a tourist, bought postcards; they lasted through jotted notes on each face, then tucked into pauses as bookmarks. Over time they served as her autobiography, found in later months, yawning over years, when they'd introduce the place, thoughts, companions, celebrations, so many wisp-ends of nebulae and portent almost evenly distributed.
Inside the arms of the Basilica di Santa Chiara Emma M. was surrounded by walls defaced, parts still standing in serene brokenness from old earthquakes, spaces divested of artworks; a bare, stripped interior. Saint Chiara's locks of hair had been snipped off by her friend Francis in a rite of sacrifice, but could barely be seen now under candle-smoke-stained brown glass. Even so, Emma could rest her hand on Chiara's crypt of knurly bone joints turning to sand and grit, and feel a slender warmth extending from the Order of Poor Clares who'd relinquished all their earthly possessions to Mother Church in order to live here, on this scant summit. Human dreams unrequited. Emma saw this place as a bridge, a cartoon rainbow dipping at one end to the book in her thigh pocket and Palomar's disquisition on "The odd slipper" lost, found, duplicated ad infinitum for all the lost left slippers, in some future generations gathering on other continents, manufactured in endless succession to match the right. They are stored, hidden, delayed, found, in a "dust cloud of big numbers which contain virtually limitless possibilities of new symmetries, combinations, pairings."
One evening quite by chance they met outside Taberna Bill.
She was stuffing her black valise with the final chapters of On Literature at the point of the "spasm of desire" and "the burning of Constantinople" when the author writes: "It seemed like a waste to me." Eco goes on to say it was like "inserting a series of temporal stopgaps into the story in order to arrive finally at that damned date of 1204"—a date somewhat before, was Emma's well-read though faded guess, that dark day when Santa Chiara's head was laid on its final stone cushion, not to mention those wispy nighttime prowlings incurred by long-sleeping nuns or unconscious saints. As a matter of nature Emma fell in with him, Palomar, easily matching his slowed, tentative stride used for contemplative digressions, for watching his shoes tamp away at lingering puddles, to be led by Will-Fully in a cuckoo-clock pace of backrolled eye and companionable non-speech. She said "T'was a goodly meal. Almost a Godly meal given the ruby red." He looked askance toward the door just closing itself on a long pneumatic hiss. In a totalizing abstract silence he looked at Emma's face. She said: "We live in the same building. I'll walk with you." His smile was slight enough to be coming from another world. "I'm Emma M." She took his free hand, warm and dry; saw his eyes adjust like a zoom, bringing her into focus, stage by stage.
Their hands pumped together in the locked motion of unmoored time, not wanting to break the parameters of clotured, hypothetical congeniality.
"Yes—Emma M." he finally said, lifted by surprise. "My neighbor upstairs. Madam, you do fine work."
Part jest, part excess of abundance, partly lost in the newly found, she affected a sloppy curtsey under an unflattering street light, nearly losing her balance. "This is a great pleasure to me, indeed," Palomar said, "since Mrs. Palomar has been so eager to meet you." He was beaming. "She'll meet you on your own ground, dear woman. History, politics, prose, cuisine. I'll pass you on to her. You've much to share, Madam, I'm quite sure of this."
They walked together over the bridge, over the taper-thin flickers of an exhausted Tiber, along the Via Virginio Orsini—Palomar treading forward in his neat pace, speaking in his neat carefully circumspect and cultured voice: writing in these moments the story of his wife as he'd never managed to do before, actually, or thought to do, before—brimming over now in his famously peculiar dimension, as if waking from an insomniac's short dream that seemed, despite his low-key considerations, to pervade the night. Blooming incandescent between them, in the supple profundities of recognition.
Copyright © 2007 by CM Dupré.
CM Dupré’s fiction, like her paintings, develop the shape natural to contemporary works and to the mind’s redistributing combinations, of metafiction and décalage. There are the shifts of time and shifts of objects from their anchors, there is the ‘between’ where language inserts itself as a querulous investigator wedged against the frets of a roulette wheel. Through these queries—of her art, fiction, and nonfiction—Dupré finds herself haunted by human constructs, their whereupons, and the ephemerality of justice including the interweave of realities.
Her paintings and stories are melded with landscapes both real and of the wandering quality of quest, and animal counterparts, all operating on interchangeable levels recognized in concert and as a strange multiform sort of beauty.
She has taught Philosophical Inquiry, Literature and Philosophy, and Art Theory. She paints at the Torpedo Factory and can be visited virtually, as well, on that Website and at www.cmdupre.com.
Visit this author's homepage at http://www.cmdupre.com
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“Oh, great! Another foreign name I’ll have to learn to say,”
Our President, our Head of State bemoaned with such dismay.
“Why can’t they just use normal names like Scooter, Jeb, or Dick?
But I know how those terrorists think. It’s one more evil trick.”
Pronouncing Ahmadinejad is not a simple feat
When questioned by reporters down in Crawford, Texas, heat.
“Abu Musab Al Zarqawi took weeks and weeks of practice.
I’ve given up on nukyuler; sticks in my craw like cactus.
“Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is one I can’t avoid.
I might soon order missile strikes, then troops will be deployed
To give Iran democracy. It’s worked well in Iraq.
We have a foolproof plan all set, composed of awe and shock.
“I’m tired of Condi’s diplomacy. All options are on the table
To free those poor Iranians; their leadership’s unstable.
Our war on terror’s going well; our scope’s just getting wider.
I’ll soon determine when we’ll strike; I am your Chief Decider.”
Copyright © 2007 by Tom Pack.
Victims of Victims
Outrage, shock, disbelief, shame.
While the world condemns acts of senseless
murders, should we not
Reflect on our collective guilt and responsibility?
Are they who fired weapons destroying
More culpable than those who sent them
Are we equally or more blameworthy for
consenting to preemptive war?
Did jingoistic fervor dull our sensibilities, prompting
us to ignore questionable rationale?
Myriads would relegate My Lai to a footnote or
non-inclusion in history texts,
Labeling it an aberration from a darker era,
an unsettled generation.
Many hope Haditha’s slaughter will go the
way of My Lai, a footnote.
Some regret its revelation far more than
its actual occurrence.
Were brave warriors fighting on our behalf
so hardened by relentless
Battle for which they were emotionally unprepared,
stretched beyond numerical adequacy, and
Subjected to conscience-numbing sights and sounds
most of us can barely comprehend?
Humanity can never ignore the pitiable of My Lai or Haditha
whose victimization blights our history.
Should the dishonor of these acts blind us to an aggregate
Are we not all complicit in sanctioning the indoctrination of
our uniformed youth to the extent they become felonious
victims of their own blind rage?
Copyright © 2007 by Tom Pack.
Eulogy for the Depraved
With news that Ken Lay this life had departed,
Thousands of folks got depressed and downhearted.
Don’t think I’m referring to wife, kids, or kin;
When they were informed, each started to grin.
The greedy Lay clan could at last take a breath;
They’re again filthy rich due to Kenny Boy’s death.
Since Feds can’t touch fortunes of those who are dead,
The widow and offspring have no tears to shed.
Even those in the White House who’d called Lay a friend
Rejoiced when they heard of Ken’s untimely end.
With a smile on his face, Dick’s heart felt aflutter.
Thank you, dear Jesus, many heard Dubya mutter.
Enron employees were those filled with grief;
The leader they’d trusted was a sleazy, vile thief
Who got off scot-free by conveniently dying.
So those Lay had ruined had good reason for crying.
Copyright © 2007 by Tom Pack.
Despite what all the world may think, Ann Coulter might be nice.
Her brain’s not filled with venom; her heart’s not made of ice.
Just because her hate-filled books sell for a hefty price
Does not equate her line of work to that of Heidi Fleiss.
She’s called an evil crone by some because she dared to say
The 9/11 widows should shut up and fade away.
She called them “broads” and “harpies;” all “millionaires” today.
Malicious statements such as that ooze from her vile cache.
Some find her phony, pseudo-smart; blinded by ambition.
Others think she sees herself as on a God-led mission
Ensuring liberal Democrats will all rot in perdition.
Perhaps in truth this rail-thin wench has moral malnutrition.
Copyright © 2007 by Tom Pack.
Falling on the Sword
Did Scooter just follow instruction
When his actions became an obstruction?
At first he’d recall, then forget.
Whose crime does he hope to abet?
Should we assume he’s gone zany
Or just being loyal to Cheney?
If you were called on to pick,
Which of the two is the Dick?
Copyright © 2007 by Tom Pack.
A native of South Carolina, Tom Pack was a member of the music faculty at Hardin-Simmons University for ten years. Later he established and operated a travel agency in Dallas before he moved to Washington, D.C. to work on the staff of the Clinton-Gore Campaign. Shortly after the Clinton 1993 inauguration, Tom joined the Motion Picture, Broadcast and Recorded Sound Division of the Library of Congress. He took early retirement in order to devote himself to writing.
A longtime admirer of Calvin Trillin, Pack enjoys writing in the field of political satire. He says his way of dealing with dissatisfaction or angst over the state of our national and world affairs is to vent via rhyme. "It's more fun and a lot less tiring than marching with protest groups."
He enjoys living in Washington, D.C., close to where inaction and lack of leadership abound.
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The Dead Man in the Piano
The dead man in the piano is my father.
There is no body, only clothed air,
his raincoat, grey slacks tangled in metal wire,
eight eyelet boots dangling over the side.
Children are not allowed in this room.
Thick blue carpet clean of footprints,
standing three-way mirror in the corner,
an elephant's tusk carved and polished.
I swung it toward the wall once,
stopping just shy of my desire.
A woman dressed in sequins sits upon the bench,
her long hair sprinkled with ashes.
In between faces of gaunt music making
she scans to see if anyone is watching.
Her hands arch off the soundless keys.
A clown, of course, is practicing faces in the mirror,
tired of birthday parties and splattering paint.
This is how it goes. The baby grand's back opens and closes,
the hammers strike. The clown wants out of his day job,
and the woman, admiration from the room.
Copyright © 2007 by Jason Tandon.
(previously published in Winter 2006 issue of Folio)
For Our Anniversary
Now that the flowers have dried and withered,
I will tell you that they were a re-wrapped
Which allowed me to purchase
Those two salmon fillets I glazed
With a bottle of Vermont maple dressing,
The crab cakes I served with a spoonful
Of spicy mustard from the housewarming sampler
Your mother had gifted us,
The package of pre-mixed chocolate chunk
Cookie dough I baked from scratch,
And from a fundraising ballet troupe,
That banana nut votive candle
Which lasted just the one night.
Copyright © 2007 by Jason Tandon.
(previously published in The Cape Rock)
Hot for Early May
I am not what you would call a woodsman
Or a boatswain for that matter.
Once, while sailing I tossed an empty lighter into the sea.
Forgive me then, if I cannot name the animal
Scratching inside my air conditioner.
As I sit and type the sun is streaming yellow-green
Through the leaves of the massive oak.
Below my window two dogs bark.
The yard is staccatoed with piles of their mess.
My car—O my automobile—sitting there in the driveway,
What will it be this month?
I concentrate on the ivy spreading across the aluminum backside
Of the neighbor's garage, its red tipped leaves nosing themselves in spite of gravity.
The houses packed in as far as my eye can see,
And the rooftops, like a slew of buxom arrowheads, plunging into the sky.
On one back porch a woman drinks from a mug of something hot
And smokes what I presume is a cigarette.
She flicks it away and kicks up her feet,
Tents her eyes with a magazine, which she drops suddenly,
Looking in my direction, and gives me a wave—
No, not a wave—the American sign for
"Please stop staring. All I want is a little peace."
Copyright © 2007 by Jason Tandon.
(previously published in Hiram Poetry Review)
The woman next to me hasn't flown
in seventeen years and wonders
if she'll have time to grab her bag
in Fort Worth and check it onto Cedar Falls.
Things have changed, I say.
This reminds her of her son,
who went to college, eloped, divorced,
and now hangs wanted in the post office
for thirty thousand dollars in child support.
She asks again if she's on the right flight.
The man wearing tinted glasses
and a cowboy hat has had a cigarette
bobbing in his mouth since push back.
Those of us who have walked the aisle
to the lavatory wish he would just light up.
Copyright © 2007 by Jason Tandon.
(selected as Poem of the Month, May 2006, Four Corners)
Jason Tandon is the author of two chapbooks Flight (Finishing Line Press) and Rumble Strip (sunnyoutside), both forthcoming in 2007. His first full-length collection Give over the Heckler was a finalist for the 2006 Kinereth Gensler Award from Alice James Books. His poems have appeared in Columbia Poetry Review, Red Cedar Review, Euphony, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. He teaches at the University of New Hampshire and is an intern poetry editor at the Paris Review.